You Can’t Fix A Disengaged Employee Without Them

Sep 27, 2016, Written by Sue Miley


If you feel like someone in your organization is disengaged, you have a problem.  No amount of compensation or change in your management style will change this fact if the employee doesn’t want to re-engage.  The problem may be compensation or your management style, but without agreement to work on the issues together with the employee, re-engagement will not happen with only one side working on it.

In some cases, an employee can become disengaged for reasons completely outside of your control.  It could be a personal issue or a natural disaster (flood victims in Baton Rouge).  Regardless of the reason, you cannot change their engagement on your own.

And it is a serious problem.

You Will See It In Their Performance

A disengaged employee IS NOT:

  • efficient with their time at work
  • focused on the best outcome for the customer, the company, or the team
  • proactive or service-oriented

The confusing thing that may keep us from addressing a disengagement issue in an employee is that they may:

  • have very strong technical skills
  • have done a great job in the past
  • truly have issues in their life distracting them (i.e. a family illness, a flooded house, etc.)

You Have To Address The Disengagement Directly With The Employee

The tipping point to decide how much grace and how much patience to apply is their response and participation in the process.  The first step though is to sit down and have the conversation with them.  If you sense a lack of consistent performance, an attitude issue, or just a difference in an employees performance, you first have to open up the discussion with them and share your concerns.  This should be done proactively and with openness.  After all, they may also WANT to fix the issue.

How Can You Tell If They Are Willing To Work on Things?

If they respond openly and with explanation, there is great hope that you all can work together to find a solution and to help the employee get back on track.

If they respond with:

  • a lack of acknowledgement: I don’t know what you are talking about;
  • direct defensiveness: it is you, not me;
  • apathy: just hear you out with rote compliance;
  • concern only for themselves with no thought of customers, team or company;

then the chances of things turning around are much lower.

I wish it was different.  I wish that there were people who figured it out themselves and re-engaged.  I wish that you could encourage, incentivize, or serve the employee enough on your own for them to come around.  But in my experience in my own business and in working with others, that just doesn’t work.

What Can The Business Owner Do To Move Things Forward?

The most important thing you can do for the health of your company, the rest of the team, and the disengaged employee, is to:

  1. Have an open discussion to assess the awareness by the employee, the reason for the disengagement, and the willingness to work on it with you.
  2. Come up with a plan that has mutual action steps to address the core problems, not just the symptoms.
  3. Work the plan with weekly or biweekly discussions on how each of you are holding up on your task or action steps.

If you do not have acknowledgement and agreement from the employee to work on things with you, then you need to put together a plan to replace the person or position.  It is just a matter of time before they are creating such negativity in your team that you have to do something or that they leave on their own and create a hole in your organization.  Or even worse, they stay quietly disengaged and do not perform even though you know they are capable.  This has the company paying the expense of the individual without getting the performance.  This is hard for small businesses to carry unproductive and disengaged employees.

Sometimes You Have To Trust Your Gut

This gives you a process to follow that is productive and collaborative, but bottom-line you know.

Your gut has been telling you.

You just have to take action.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jeff Scott says

    Great and timely advice Sue. My experience is that it is unlikely you will be able to re-engage most people….and I’ve killed myself trying. Better to cut losses and move on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

Related Posts

christian business owner character

Christian Business Owners: Three Reasons Character Matters

By Sue Miley | March 15, 2022

Owning a business requires many skills and a certain temperament. If you have read books like The E-Myth you realize that business ownership requires working […]

Read More
Christian Leadership Verses

15 Bible Verses to Encourage Christian Leadership

By Chad Schoonmaker | February 22, 2022

Being a Christian leader in today’s secular work climate takes more than courage, discipline, and determination. Christian leadership is deeper than that. One must also […]

Read More
being a good christian business leader

A Critical Discipline for Christian Business Leaders

By Jim Miley | February 3, 2022

Effective business leaders must have discipline.  Effective Christian Business Leaders must have more discipline.   Of the many disciplines that make a strong leader, one stands […]

Read More